A celestial event happening this week will be so bright even people in bright cities like Sydney, will get to see it — as long as the morning skies remain clear of clouds.
The two brightest planets in the night sky, Venus and Jupiter, plus the dimmest, Mars, will appear to pass extremely close to one another all of this week.
This close encounter is called a triple planetary conjunction and we won’t see another one like it until January 2021.
The best time to see this rare celestial event is just before sunrise because that’s when the three planets are high above the horizon but it’s still dark enough to spot all three of them. While spotting Mars might be difficult on its own, you should be able to spot the red-tinted point in reference to Venus and Jupiter. The triangle that the planets make will be only about 5 degrees wide, or about the width of your three middle fingers.
Here’s how they will look this week. Venus and Jupiter passed one another yesterday morning, but there’s still plenty of the dance left to see:
All you have to do is go outside before sunrise and look up toward the eastern horizon. Amateur astronomer Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide told the ABC that on a clear night, the trio should be easy to see with the naked eye:
“If you’re up in the early morning, around an hour before sunlight, the three of them should be high enough above the horizon to see without any major objects getting in the way.
“Look to the east and the three of them will be roughly a hand span above the eastern horizon, a little bit north of east.”
Here’s a few key mornings:
- October 31: Venus and Mars at their closest
- November 3: All three at their closest to each other
- November 7: Jupiter and the crescent moon next to each other
Obviously, binoculars or a telescope will give you a better view of the planets. And if you’re extra diligent you might even be able to spot a fourth planet: Mercury.
“As dawn brightens, look for a fourth planet, Mercury, lurking way down near the horizon below the other three,” Sky and Telescope reports. “Don’t delay; Mercury is sinking lower day by day.”
Throughout the entire month of October, the three planets have been inching ever-closer. Here’s an animation showing their motion for the first half of the month:
Right now Venus is about 65 million miles from Earth; Jupiter is 560 million miles from Earth; and Mars is about 207 million miles away.
Of the three planets, Venus is the closest to Earth and, therefore, the brightest. While Jupiter is much farther than Mars, it is more than 20 times larger, which is why it’s so much brighter. Moreover, the surface of Mars is less reflective than either Jupiter or Venus, which also explains why it is so dim.
If you get any shots of the conjunction, send them with a description, your name, and location to our science team at [email protected] and we might feature them on our site.
Check out more about the event on ScienceAtNASA below:
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